Today: Aunt Alison, Grandma Jie, and of the many photos taken during our family get together.
Personal Notes from Mike
  • Our family Thanksgiving was held in our house here in Mattoon, yesterday and today. All three daughters spent Saturday night in the parsonage, along with sons-in-laws and grandson, Sean.  My parents came yesterday for the day.  Sharon and Rene (Sharon is Mindy and Alison's mom) came today.  It was a joyous time, our first holiday experience here in the Mattoon parsonage.
  • On Thanksgiving Day, Dave and Linda Schilling invited us over to join their family for dinner.  Daughter Mindy was with us for the day. And we enjoyed a visit from one of our Chinese scholars, a dear friend, Guan-Lin Su (Glenn,) who is now a post-doc in Berkley.
  • Today was peace Sunday at Mattoon First UMC.  Each year I try to share with my congregation some information that will help us pray for peace, identify things we can do to be peace-makers, and celebrate ways God showers us with peace everyday. A significant part of my research for this morning's sermon came from the most recent publication of the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management, Peace and Conflict 2016.  I also utilized several websites in my sermon today.  Check out the following:  
  • All sermons in our church are podcast on the church website, usually they are posted by the Tuesday following the Sunday they are preached.
  • What a joy it was today to bless the Advent wreath and light the first Advent candle!
  • This week Scarlette, Tristan, and Sean will move from downtown Chicago to Naperville.  Jie and I will be helping them out Tuesday and Wednesday. 

November 27, 2016
Midlife Crisis?
I never thought of myself as having a mid-life crisis.  But aging adults (like myself) do commonly engage in certain behaviors to reassure ourselves that we are NOT drifting away from all life's pleasures.  It's the stuff, however, that can occasionally raise eyebrows:  some guys get a new convertible or a new wife or a new hairpiece.  

For me it is athletics. I play tennis, softball, basketball, etc., all so I don't feel so old. Of course, there is the constant danger of getting hurt...or waking up with leg cramps in the middle of the night.  My experience is this:  the older you get, the more you need common sense.  Unfortunately, a midlife crisis often separates us from common sense.   
So here is my drama:  The dream of one more big victory is what keeps me going back to the gym. The notion that I might amaze people who know me (with my physical fitness) keeps me jogging the streets, trying new diets, and spending hours in the gym practicing basketball drills.  Visions of glory inspire me to play tennis with Jie three or four times a week (in good weather.) It is the dream of glory that lies behind my motive for asking Jordan to organize a church softball team next summer--with an insistence that he let the senior pastor (me) star ( I mean "play") at second base.  
Anyway:  I was in the middle of my basketball regimen the other the YMCA, practicing my close-up shots.  This is where I stand almost right under the basket and jump and shoot as many times as possible, trying to score as much as possible, in as short of time as possible.  It simulates the chaotic rebound scramble of a real game.  

That was when I had this month's first unfortunate accident.  One shot banged against the bottom of the rim and ricocheted back toward my face. Due to quick reflexes, I preserved my nose.  Sadly, I jammed my index finger defending my nose.  The finger made a popping sound.  

Allow me to pause here for a brief reflection:  When a young guy gets an injury he wears it as a badge of honor.  When an old guy gets an injury, he starts to think how much safer it is to shift his recreational pleasures to flower gardening.  

Was my aching finger a blessing in disguise?  Was it the impetus to cure my midlife crisis?  It was starting to look like I might bequeath all those vigorous sports to the younger generation--at long last--to the relief of my wife and daughters.

I think I was actually cured...for a week...until Dora (my administrative assistant) got on my nerves one day in the office.  She started pontificating about how she would only socialize with men younger than her.  According to Dora, men older than her (I am 12 years older) were lazy and boring and sat around all the time and watched TV.  She, on the other hand, liked to do things such as exercise at 5 a.m., put on boxing gloves and go a few rounds, and work a chainsaw.  (All this is true!)

My midlife crisis suddenly returned with a vengeance.  It rattled me so much that I stalked out of the office, went straight to the YMCA, and picked up a basketball, despite my severe injury.  (By this time I had also cut my jammed finger on a bread knife.  And two fingers (fresh from surgery this past year) were giving me a little grief. Then after about five minutes of misery, a trio of 13-year-old boys approached me.  "Hey mister," said the one about my height.  "My friend wants to challenge you to a game of one on one." The friend was six inches taller than me...and all his fingers appeared to work just fine.

A bit of common sense briefly returned to my thinking.  I wisely suggested that the four of us play 2 on 2 instead.  And so we did.  My side won...and suddenly I had fallen completely off the wagon...or whatever you call it when too much macho gets in your blood and you start your midlife crisis all over again.  My pumped up brain caused me to drive straight to the church and tell everyone in the office that I'd just beaten a bunch of huge teenagers at basketball.
Then a couple days later some of my old friends called me to drive to Champaign and join them in a night of doubles-tennis.  And I do mean old friends, as in guys my own age.  I was so happy to join them again, it had been a couple months since I got to play with them.  This was when I chipped a tooth.

You may be asking how a guy can chip a tooth playing tennis. Well...Randy and I collided when both of went after a ball that had been hit between us.  Since he's taller than me, his shoulder hit me square in the mouth.  Randy discovered the next day that an imprint of my teeth was embedded in his shoulder.  So he texted me to ask if I was okay:  he hadn't realized the night before how hard we'd collided. 

My mouth was still too sore to talk or eat.  But heck!  Guys don't cry or complain about tennis accidents.  And they definitely don't tell their wives.  So I texted back that I was fine...and unlike him I was glad that I didn't have to explain to my wife why I'd come home with a hickey on my shoulder when I was supposedly at tennis with the guys.

He texted back:  "no problem there but don't know how I'm going to explain to my mother that I'm bringing an extra mouth to Thanksgiving dinner."
But you need not give me any sympathy.  I'm pretty tough:  got a nail file and smoothed down the sharp edge of my tooth, and as soon as I could talk again, I rushed back to the church and threw down the gauntlet at Dora: Had she ever participated in an athletic event so vigorously that she had chipped a tooth?  HA.  No she hadn't! 

I had conclusively trumped my chain saw-wielding, "I box for fun," tomboy secretary (half a generation my junior!)

So much adrenaline was pumping through my veins that I decided to invite the youth group to a game of our church gym. After all, Jordan (our youth pastor) was away and the kids surely needed some adult to help whip them in shape.

And I am happy to say that I played three rounds with the 7 of them without getting myself injured!  

Now...before you hear it from someone else, let me hasten to clarify on little incident that happened that evening.  It is true that I stumbled during the second round and knocked over a ten year old girl.  But I did not fall on top of her!  She managed to roll away right before I also hit the ground.  She was NOT injured. Addison is fine! (She might have a few nightmares during the next couple weeks...something about a huge pastor falling out of the sky and landing on top of her.  But she's fine.)

All in all the kids were amazed that an old geezer could go a three rounds of basketball with with them.  

I was amazed the next day when I could hardly move.  Fortunately, it was Thanksgiving that day and Dora was off work and I didn't have to hobble past her desk.  

We say that with age comes wisdom.  You learn things like, "never collide with a man who is a foot taller than you."  You muse that it's probably not a good idea to get into a boxing match with a woman three feet shorter than you.  And you try to remember that it's never a good idea to play three rounds of basketball with the youth group...if you are 62 years old...and you need to get out of bed for some reason the next day.  

It's a pity we never knew a "mid-life Jesus."  I would have been interested in seeing how he adjusted to what he might have done to entertain the children who came to him.  

But in lieu of an example, he gave us grace:  grace upon grace and mercy upon mercy.  And with so much grace, the eternally young adult Jesus bestowed enough leeway upon us old guys probably don't need to risk proving ourselves after all.  Thanks be to God.


 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS